Mayor Drew Hastings confirmed Wednesday that he has retained a Cincinnati-based law firm to pursue a court action in regard to city Auditor Gary Lewis’ refusal to approve a purchase order for the demolition of a property Hastings owns.
Hastings confirmed that he has retained the law firm of Santen and Hughes, which specializes in strategic business planning, contracts, litigation and dispute resolution, estate and tax planning, domestic relations, medical malpractice, personal injury, employment, criminal cases and other areas, according to its website.
Hastings said his attorneys will file a mandamus action against Lewis. A mandamus suit seeks a judicial order commanding a public official or office to carry out a public or statutory duty.
Hastings said he is filing the suit as a private individual and property owner, not as mayor.
At issue is Hastings’ application to participate in the city’s demolition assistance program. Under the program, the city fronts the cost of demolishing a property, with the property owner repaying the cost through additional tax assessments over five years.
Despite having a purchase order for the work submitted by Safety and Service Director Mel McKenzie, and receiving the go-ahead from Law Director Fred Beery, Lewis has refused to process the purchase order. Lewis has approved similar demolition purchase orders.
Council President Lee Koogler said previously that if Hastings is treated “like every other citizen, he should be afforded the same opportunity through the city.” Hastings said Wednesday that’s all he expects.
Hastings said there are options in regard to which venue to file the mandamus action, and his attorneys are determining which is best.
“Once this is filed, I think it’s a cut-and-dried case to win, as does my legal counsel,” said Hastings. He said he will also seek recovery of legal expenses.
Lewis said last week that he does not have confidence in Beery’s legal advice. Lewis has been communicating with Cincinnati-based bond attorney Brenda Wehmer, and shared their correspondence and his interpretation of it with city officials and The Times-Gazette in a series of emails.
In regard to Hastings’ mandamus suit, it would be Beery’s responsibility as law director to defend Lewis against such a case. But Beery said Wednesday that “because he lacks confidence in me,” he would recuse himself and find outside counsel to handle the defense.
“I would have to find good counsel to protect the city from liability,” said Beery.
In documents he filed to participate in the city’s demolition program, Hastings said he wants to tear down a building he owns on Gov. Foraker Place — often called the “Armintrout building” because it housed attorney Bill Armintrout’s practice — because it is blighted and damaged beyond reasonable repair. He said he wants to create parking spaces for tenants of an adjacent property, including The Times-Gazette.
Others who have participated in the city’s demolition program will repay 50 percent of the cost of demolition over five-year assessments. Hastings signed a document agreeing to repay 100 percent of the cost.
In one of his recent emails to city officials, Lewis said, “I want to assure everyone that I am not ‘out to get the mayor.’ It’s no secret that we don’t like each other. In the best of times we were only able to acknowledge each other’s existence, but under that minimal circumstance we were able to get a great deal done.”
He added, “But I do insist that the law be adhered to. I would have scrutinized this situation even if we were best friends. As such a new purchase order will not be issued for this project until Council takes action and approves the necessary measures.”
In addition to corresponding with bond attorney Wehmer, Lewis said in previous emails that he has sought a “decision” from the state ethics commission, and also contacted the state auditor’s office.
Contacted Wednesday, Lewis relayed through a clerk that he had no comment.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456, or follow on Twitter @AbernathyGary.